Radio Readers BookByte: From the Philco to Streaming

Feb 7, 2020

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Hello, HPPR Radio Readers!  I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas, here to ruminate on the wonderful novel Stormy Weather by Paulette Giles, a writer from San Antonio familiar to Radio Readers.

You know, I’ve heard some murmurs of dissent about how this novel fits with our Spring 2020 Book Club them of “Radio Waves.” All I can say is: “Seriously?”

I guess it is easy to be distracted by the story of a hardscrabble Texas farm family during the Dustbowl era, especially since the family is of a widow and her three daughters left broke and nearly destitute upon the death of the man of the family. The widow speculates on wildcat oil rigging, one daughter bets on horses, another puts her bet on a soldier.

So, sure, there’s a complicated plot, but there’s also the news reporter with aspirations in broadcast journalism whose career arc is suggestive of the iconic Dan Rather. Born in Texas during the Great Depression, Rather started as a print journalist, had a brief stint in radio, and later dominated television as a CBS news anchor through most of the major news events of the late 20th century. He later headlined 60 Minutes, one of the finest and first examples of televised investigative journalism.  

Also in Giles’ novel are so many references to radios themselves – the new high end Philco one of the characters buys.  Philcos.. You know, from the late 1920’s through the late 1950’s Philco was THE name in radio and eventually television sets. Watch any film or show set in the ‘30’s for example, and you’ll see a Philco at some point, you know, one of those wooden arched frames that looks like a Gothic window? That’s a Philco. 

From hi-fidelity to battery powered “farm radios” Philco had the market covered, and it’s so cool that Giles captures that omnipresent aspect of radio in certain historical quarters. 

Her weaving references throughout her novel to radio programs and popular music is a detail that suggests the importance of radio to those characters of hers in her novel: those women living and working hard on the farm.  Taking in the ways that turning on a radio could either  fill silence  or distract from noise of  a storm reminded me of my own childhood, eating breakfast with my family while we listened to hog and commodities futures and then to droll recounting of uplifting stories that ended with a twist, a twist pronounced as:  “The Rest of The Story.”  Also evoked by my reading of the novel were memories of  driving aimless with a carload of friends, blasting Casey Kasem’s ‘Top 40,” and other famous distinctive voices calling games – for me, Harry Caray , Howard Cosell—to NPR voices like Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg, Ray Suarez with news of the world.

I do wonder what Giles’ characters might think of the role of radio today, what they might think of online news, and social media…I suspect they would embrace the facility and efficiency with which we can generate play lists of favorite tunes, access pod casts and programs of all kinds, to play back whenever we like, how readily we can access news – locally, regionally, globally.  Would Giles’ characters miss a sense of local community or appreciate the potential for an ever-expanding community?  What about you?

For HPPR Radio Readers, who are always ready to expand our community of those  “in touch with the world and at home on the High Plains,” I’m Jane Holwerda.